Today's press conference with Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean, Sergio Perez and Alexander Albon.
Gentlemen, I'd like to start with a moment of reflection, given that this is Formula 1's 1000th race. Growing up and watching the sport, what made you want to become a Formula 1 driver? Romain, if we could start with you, please?
Romain Grosjean: Good afternoon. I started watching with my dad, a long time ago. It was the time of the Ayrton Senna versus Alain Prost fights and that was pretty exciting to watch. My dad was always passionate about cars and one day he brought me to a race track - not a Formula 1 race - and I saw the cars going and I thought 'you know what, that's what I would like to do'. Then, eventually, I was lucky enough to go to the Monaco Grand Prix to watch the Thursday practice and I saw the car and heard the noise of the engine and it was just something very unique and special, a good memory of my life. I remember going to the toilet and DC was there and he said, 'oh, you go first son'. He still called me son by then! And I said 'no, no, you go'. Pretty amazing.
Thank you. Sergio?
Sergio Perez: Yeah, for me similar, a similar story. I remember the first race I watched with my dad was '94 actually, when Aytron had his accident. That was the first race I ever saw. A shock moment, more for my dad than for me. At the time I didn't understand well what was happening. Obviously from Mexico, Formula 1 is not very big so it always seemed too far, too difficult. It's been a while since we had a driver, so the history back home wasn't big. But as a family we always loved the sport and I always wanted to become a Formula 1 driver. At a very young I went to Europe to fight for it. I remember watching so many races, always waking up very early in the morning, because in Mexico the races are very early, six or seven o'clock in the morning. So always on a weekend, when you don't want to wake up early, I had to, to watch Formula 1. I actually remember watching Kimi back then, at a very young age too.
Thank you Sergio. Kimi?
Kimi Raikkonen: Yeah, I don't know what year it was, but it was a long time ago, '80s, that's for sure. I think the first memories were somewhere where Keke was racing when he blew up his tyre or something, maybe Adelaide or something, with the long straight, maybe the last races that he did. So anyhow, obviously I was cheering for the Finnish guys, but I didn't think that I... maybe you dream when you're a kid, but once you start doing go-karts and everything I didn't really believe that it was going to happen, because obviously you need a certain amount of money to get from go-karts to racing. Maybe I believed a bit more when I got my managers helping and then actually got to race in Formula cars and then obviously it went very quickly. I guess it was a dream but not very realistic at that point, but it went fast once it started to go there.
Thank you Kimi. And Alex?
Alexander Albon: My hero was Michael Schumacher. That was the guy I always looked up to. I was Ferrari mad actually - even if I should say that or not, I don't know. But I loved Schumacher. I think I was about six. I was a bit like Romain. I was at Silverstone and there was a competition. You had to fill out the top three drivers that you thought would win the race, or finish in that order, so I just put Michael, Rubens and Montoya. For some reason at that race that's what happened. I think Barrichello was finishing last or something. So no one wrote what I wrote down. I think it was in hospitality at Ferrari. So I won the prize and got to meet Michael and got to meet Rubens. It stuck with me that. I was always a hardcore fan.
Thanks to all four of you. Alex, if we could stay with you. Going well so far, you've outqualified your team-mate in Australia and Bahrain. Can you describe the learning curve you've been on so far in Formula 1?
AA: Yeah, it's been steep. Getting in the car in Barcelona, getting up to speed. The speed bit... the cars are so refined now that you do feel quite comfortable with the cars straight away. It's more the interaction with the team and kind of just extracting performance outside the car, which definitely is a lot about experience. So just being Dany, listening to him really, listening to his feedback, how he communicates with people, it really does help me. But yeah, it's been going well. Simulator driving, that's helped a lot as well. But it's going well so far.
And are you doing anything different with your helmet this weekend?
AA: Yeah, so I've got a Prince Bira tribute. I thought it would be cool to go back and bring out some of the Thai history in Formula 1. I have a couple of photos, I have his number, well, my number but in his style, because he had the blue and yellow racing scheme. So that's about it.
Thanks. Romain, you're a man in need of some good fortune this weekend in China. Just how was last week's test session in Bahrain? Did you understand why the car's pace dropped off in the race?
RG: Well, it started with three wheels, which didn't help, after the contact in the first corners. No, we had some good testing. It was a bit disrupted by the rain, which was a surprise to all us in Bahrain on Tuesday, but we did manage, on Wednesday afternoon, to get some good data and info, some interesting set-ups that we should have been running during the race. I think the car is fast and it's good. You don't qualify twice in the top 10 if you don't have a fast car. I think we just missed something in Bahrain that we found at testing, which is good. I think what we need right now is a bit of luck on our side, and to make sure we go through the race with no incident or no issue and we should be able to have a good weekend.
And anything different with your helmet?
RG: I've changed the design, using the F1 1000 logo - that looks really cool - just the full white helmet. Nothing really from the past of Formula 1 but I was not very... I used to throw all my equipment to the bins of the season, but luckily my wife pushed me to keep at least one thing from every year. I know I've got one overall per year, from all my racing career, from go-karts to 2019 season, and actually when I look at them now I think it's pretty cool. I've got some helmets back home that mean more than others. My 100th grand prix helmet and obviously being part of race 1000 in Formula 1 is going to be something big, so that helmet is going to go on the shelf and I really like the design that we have produced. It looks pretty classy and really cool to be driven in China.
Sergio, it hasn't been the easiest of starts for the team in 2019, though you did finish in the points last time out. Are there any underlying issues with the car and if there are, what are they?
SP: I think the upgrade that we brought to the start of the season, given that we didn't have enough to test or to work on it, I think that put us on the back foot at the moment in the midfield group. We scored points in Melbourne and now in Bahrain. At the moment we are not fast enough, we are not where we want to be, but I think we have proven in the past that it's a very long season. It doesn't matter where you are now, it's where you get to by Abu Dhabi. We are understanding our issues, we have a lot of work to do and I'm pretty sure we will meet all of our targets for this season.
And your helmet design for this weekend?
SP: My helmet design didn't change much. I just wanted to put the 1000 race logo on my helmet just to... it's obviously very special as a driver to race here, at such a special venue for Formula 1, it's a very special weekend also. I want, as Romain said, to remember this weekend in many years, to look at this helmet and remember that I was part of the 1000th race in Formula 1.
Kimi, great start to the season for you and Alfa Romeo, points in both of the opening two races. Can you tell us, what are the strengths of this year's car and has the performance so far changed your goals for the season?
KR: No, it hasn't. I didn't really have any goals, so it's pretty hard to change them. I can't really talk about last year's car. Obviously I did a test but it's one track so from my side it's hard to say what is better on this car than the one they had last year but for sure they did a good job over the winter from the car that I drove in Abu Dhabi in the tyre test to the one we have now. Obviously there's a lot of things to improve still and it's a never-ending story and an ongoing thing to try to make it better, holding more downforce and stuff like that - but yeah, I think in general it's quite a good, solid package and we understand it pretty OK and they seem to have good guys on all areas to bring new stuff. It never comes fast enough but that's a normal issue in any team you go to. Yeah, I think the basis there is to make it faster all the time, so keep it up and see what we've got when we get to the end of the year.
Anything different on the helmet design to celebrate 1000 races?
KR: No. I wanted to have an open-face helmet but there were some regulation issues...!
Questions From The Floor
(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines / racefans.net) Checo, you say your helmet design hasn't changed much but I'm hearing from an insider that your helmet has actually changed. Do you have a different brand for this race?
SP: Yeah, in that regard yes. I've moved to Bell. I've been in a long term partnership with Schuberth which I'm very thankful for, I think it's a fantastic helmet. Now I had the opportunity to change and I think Bell is also a fantastic helmet. I've tried it, and it's my first race with them now. I started my career in Formula One with them and now I'm going back to Bell.
(Steven Wade - AP) Kimi, we see that this summer you're going to break an F1 record for the most races contested, how do you stay motivated? You've had tremendous success already, how do you stay motivated and stay on top of your game?
KR: I don't know really. I don't have any special things that I try to motivate myself. It's become more of a hobby for me lately than anything else and probably that's why it's more fun again, so, yeah, I always try to do the best that I can. Some days it goes a bit better than others - but that's how it goes when you do a lot of racing. Some days it's a bit more tricky than others. It's never really been an issue. A lot of people think so but, y'know, everybody has the right to say what they think. I just try to do what I can and hopefully... when I feel myself that it's not what I expect from myself then obviously I try to find a new hobby after that.
Check out our Thursday gallery from Shanghai, here.